2020 Young Architects Award Recipient
Emerging talent deserves recognition. The AIA Young Architects Award honors individuals who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made significant contributions to the architecture profession early in their careers.
Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, is driven by one overarching mission: to improve the lives of those living in cities. She has dedicated her career to applying social and economic principles to the profession, and she has long championed diversity and triple-bottom-line sustainability. As an architect and president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), Dowdell has seized every opportunity to empower architects to affect positive change at all levels.
Dowdell’s contributions to the profession began during her undergraduate years at Cornell University, when she co-founded the Social Economic Environmental Design (SEED) Network in 2005 during an internship with the chief architect of the General Services Administration. A global movement that set standards for economic, social, and environmental justice for design projects, it boasts more than 2,000 pledged members and is featured in The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice.
After graduating from Cornell, one of Dowdell’s first projects was the renovation of a dorm that serves deaf students at Gallaudet University at Ayers Saint Gross in Washington, DC. She was later hired as an architectural technician and communications manager for HOK’s New York studio. To promote the firm’s efforts to empower the communities it serves, she co-founded HOK IMPACT, one of the profession’s first corporate social responsibility programs. Since 2010, the program has given employees a greater sense of connectivity and provided venues in which to engage the community in a meaningful way.
Dowdell left HOK in 2011 to pursue her master’s degree in public administration at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She later worked for Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department, where she helped developers navigate the city’s departments to build high-priority projects. After this, Dowdell assumed a leadership role with the start-up residential development company Century Partners and was an adjunct lecturer at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Last year, she returned to HOK as a principal based in the firm’s Chicago studio, where she is focused on generating new business in the Midwest. She is the co-chair of the firm’s diversity advisory council, which aims to create a more diverse and inclusive firm culture.
Since 2004, Dowdell has been an active member of NOMA. As part the organization’s board, she established its annual service project that in 11 years has tackled projects in 10 cities across the country. Currently, she is NOMA’s 2019–2020 president, and her “ALL in for NOMA” platform has already produced significant results, including a 47 percent jump in membership since her election. Dowdell’s future goals include boosting NOMA’s funds by $1 million by December 2020 and growing the number of licensed African-American architects in collaboration with the AIA Large Firm Roundtable.
As our cities continue to become more diverse, Dowdell believes architects can play a central role in gathering all people through spaces that promote peace and harmony. Her eagerness to explore real problems and provide creative, thoughtful solutions is helping her deliver the change she wants to see in the world.